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From the editor: Fragility of global supply chain exposed by health crisis

As the coronavirus crisis spooks Governments, individuals and financial markets, empty supermarket shelves have become a visible symbol of the panic which has crept into many areas.

The virus and wider media hysteria has shaken global infrastructure like few things in recent years, with financial markets on Monday falling at their steepest rate since the financial crisis.

 

And while it is laughable that the commodities in hottest demand are toilet rolls and hand sanitiser, what it has shown is that in this age of 24-hour news media and unfiltered coverage on social media, panic now spreads faster than a virus itself.

 

Our Government clearly relishes the interconnected and globalised nature of our food and manufacturing supply chains, as seen by its clamour to establish new trade deals, but what the Coronavirus crisis has exposed is the potential fragility of a food system predicated on imports and foodstuffs coming in from around the world.


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The fact the Government brought together food and retail industry chiefs at the start of this week for an emergency summit shows how concerned they are that the global supply chain could be badly shaken by this outbreak. The last thing the Government wants is shortages of essential items or the potential for food prices to increase.

 

But will all this lead to a renewed emphasis on UK food producers and self sufficiency? While it might be commercially expedient, for example, for retailers to ship lamb halfway around the world, has the folly of such practices been highlighted by this disease outbreak, not to mention the huge environmental footprint such sourcing policies incur.

 

It might be overly simplistic and frankly naive to suggest we should source the bulk of our food from the home market. However, this latest health crisis and its implications should act as a wake-up call for food retailers and Government advisers about the crucial, and sustainable, role UK farming can and does play in feeding the nation and the need, therefore, for farmers to be supported accordingly.

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